By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener
Have you ever wondered what that vine was growing up the side your grandmother’s porch? The one with the big leaves and the little red flowers? It gave lovely cool shade on the porch in the heat of the summer.
Scarlet runner beans, Phaseolus coccineus, are a native of the mountains of Central America. In their native habitat they are a perennial, but are planted annually when grown in our gardens. The vines are vigorous growers and can reach up to 6 meters in length. This makes them ideal for growing along chain link fences or up trellises or on strings beside your grandmother’s porch. They like full sun and a rich well draining soil.
The beans produced are edible when the pods are small and the beans inside have just begun to develop. The skin of the pod is a bit furry but with cooking they are a tasty vegetable. When more mature, the seeds inside can be shelled and eaten like Lima beans. The seeds can be saved from the pods that have been left on the vines to ripen and dry. When ripe, the seeds will rattle inside the pods. This vine keeps producing right up until frost.
You can plant directly into the soil, 4-5cm deep and 6-8cm apart earlier than regular beans, but they won’t tolerate a frost if they have sprouted above ground. You can also start them indoors in pots and transplant outside when there is no more danger of frost. Make sure there is a trellis or fence or something for them to climb on. (Strings or mesh hung from the eaves of grandmother’s porch.)
The flowers are attractive to humming birds and bees. So, plant them where you will be able to enjoy the hummingbirds. They are also attractive to rabbits and slugs. I start my seeds in juice cartons with the tops cut off. Just before planting I cut the bottom off the carton and leave the sides up as a collar to protect the tender plants from slugs. Slugs don’t seem to bother the plants as they get large.
We’re still waiting and dreaming of our garden, but we will be getting topsoil for our new property in time to start our gardens. Scarlet runners on teepees and mesh hung from the eaves will give some vertical interest to our bland landscape.